1752: Benjamin Franklin –Philadelphia Contributionship of the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire
The Philadelphia Contributionship is the first mutual insurance company in the U.S., modeled after the Amicable Contributorship of London. Policyholders elected a board of directors to issue policies. The contributionship is still in operation today. From the history section of their website: “Contribution” was defined in Sheridan’s 1793 dictionary as “ that which is given by several hands for some common purpose,” symbolized by the company’s clasped hands logo. (Angevine, pg. 19)
1787: The Free African Society is founded in Philadelphia by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones
It was the second African American mutual-aid society to open in the United States. Mutual-aid societies are considered the precursors to formal cooperatives. (See page 21 of W.E.B. DuBois’ Economic co-operation among Negro Americans for the articles of incorporation of the Free African Society)
1791: Journeyman carpenters on strike in Philadelphia form a cooperative
“Two years before the U.S. Constitution was ratified, a year before the first full-fledged trade union in America was organized, a group of carpenters in Philadelphia walked out. To help support themselves during their strike, they formed a cooperative and tried to undercut their boss by charging 25% less, announcing that they were eliminating his profit. They were striking for the ten hour day and gave it to themselves, a great advance over the prevailing sun-to-sun system, and the 75 hour work week. But the cooperative was planned to last only as long as the strike.” (Curl, see below for citation)
1806: Philadelphia shoemakers form a cooperative boot and shoe factory
“In 1806, Philadelphia journeymen shoemakers, with the leadership of Peter Polin and Undriel Backes, unionized and struck for higher wages. The boss had them arrested for conspiracy. The judge instructed the jury to find them guilty, which they proceeded to do. Beaten but unbowed, the shoemakers refused to slink back to a boss and organized a cooperative boot and shoe factory instead.” (Curl, see below for citation)
1826: Langdon Byllesby, a Philadelphia printer, writes Observations on the Sources and Effects of Unequal Wealth
“Byllesby advocated that wage-earners withdraw their labor from the capitalist system and join into cooperatives in every industry and trade, which could then federate, grow large enough to draw in the entire working population, and so create a new economic system in America free of poverty and inequality. This laid the base for the National Trades’ Union’s cooperative movement of the mid-1830s, and for the union cooperative movements that were to follow.” (Curl, see below for citation) Some of Byllesby’s text is available online here, starting on page 117.
1829: Workers in Philadelphia open the first cooperative store on record in the United States
“The store sold just to members at cost, charging 20 cents per month dues. Later that year another was started in New York City. The separation of producers from consumers by ever-larger distances was resulting in the domination by middlemen; working people turned to buying-cooperative to eliminate middleman profits as much as possible, reducing their cost of living.” (Curl, see below for citation) (also cited in Angevine, pg. 20)
1831: The earliest “building and loan” cooperative on record opens in Philadelphia
“The 1830s saw the first cooperative building, banking, and credit association. Some of these made it through the depression of the late 1830s and 1840s, only to be wiped out, along with almost every cooperative in the U.S., by the Civil War.” (Curl, see below for citation)
1834: The Philadelphia cabinetmakers union opens a cooperative warehouse
“By 1836, the warehouse was one of the largest in the city. Soon much of the Philadelphia trade union movement swung to cooperation: the handloom weavers opened five shops in 1836, soon followed by the tailors, hatters, and saddlers.” (Curl, see below for citation)
1836: Philadelphia Trades’ Union resolves to support the growth of cooperatives
“The Philadelphia Trades’ Union adopted a resolution to ‘place in the Constitution a clause allowing the funds of the Union to be loaned to the Societies (individual unions) for the purpose of Cooperation.’ Its official newspaper urged each union to raise a fund through regular member contributions to get capital to begin. At the same time each union was to contribute monthly to the Trades’ Union fund to help start cooperatives. A conference of nearly two hundred union delegates in 1837 resolved that each union work out an estimate for setting up a cooperative to support ten members. But in the middle of this conference, the capitalist financiers panicked, beginning a new depression that temporarily wiped out not only the cooperatives but almost the entire union movement.” (Curl, see below for citation)
1844: Co-operative grocery store opens in Rochdale, England
The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened their co-op store to sell food at fair prices and honest weights and measures. This is often cited as the birth of the modern cooperative movement because they established the 7 cooperative principles that are used internationally today.
1849: Philadelphia Seamstresses’ Union forms a cooperative
1862: Union Cooperative Association Number 1
Labor reformers in Philadelphia formed a cooperative grocery store modeled after the Rochdale Pioneers store in England. This was the first U.S. co-op to follow the Rochdale principles (Angevine, pg. 20).The store provided its members with the necessities of life at fair prices. Its initial location was 917 Federal Street in South Philly. Their constitution and bylaws are digitized and available here.
1868: Pennsylvania becomes the 3rd state to pass a co-op law
The law was modeled on one passed in Massachusetts in 1866 and it permitted the formation of mechanical, manufacturing, and agricultural cooperatives.
1869: Knights of Labor is born in Philadelphia
“The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor was organized in 1869 in sworn secrecy by members of a Philadelphia tailoring cutters local who were being blacklisted after striking. They aimed ‘to secure to workers the full enjoyment of the wealth they create,…to harmonize the interests of labor and capital.’ One of their First Principles was Cooperation. When they were forced out into the open nine years later, they made their goals public: ‘to establish co-operative institutions such as will tend to supersede the wage-system, by the introduction of a cooperative industrial system.’ The Knights of Labor was among the first to organize white and black into the same union. At their peak they had over 50,000 women members, including many “housewives,” who were recognized by them as workers.” (Curl, see below for citation) Read more about the Knights of Labor on the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.
1874: Cooperative Barrel Works is formed in Philadelphia
1888: Frankford Wholesale Grocery Co-op is formed in Philadelphia
1899: See below for a snapshot of economic cooperation among Black people in Philadelphia in 1899 written by W.E.B. DuBois
Philadelphia, Pa., 1899 (60,000 Negroes) From early times the precarious economic condition of the free Negroes led to many mutual aid organizations. They were very simple in form : an initiation fee of small amount was required and small regular payments ; in case of sickness, a weekly stipend was paid, and *n case of death the members were assessed to pay for the funeral and help the widow. Confined to a few mem bers, all personally known to each other, such societies were successful from the beginning. We hear of them in the eighteenth century, and by 1838 there were 100 such small groups, with 7,448 members, in the city. They paid in .$18,851, gave $14,172 in benefits, and had $10,023 on hand. Ten years later about 8,000 members belonged to 106 such societies. Seventy-six of these had a total membership of 5,187. They contributed usually 25 cents to37X cents a mouth ; the sick received $1.50 to $3.00 per week, and death benefits of $10 to $20 were allowed. The income of these seventy-six societies was $16,814.23 ; 681 families were assisted. These societies have since been superceded to some extent by other organizations; they are still so numerous, however, that it is impractical to catalogue them ; there are probably several hundred of various kinds in the city.
From general observation and the available figures, it seems fairly certain that at least 4,000 Negroes belong to secret orders, and that these orders annually collect at least $25,000, part of which is paid out in sick and death benefits and part invested. The real estate, personal property and funds of these, orders amount to no less than $125,000. The function of the secret society is partly social intercourse and partly insurance. They furnish pastime from the monotony of work, a field for ambition and intrigue, a chance for parade, and insurance against misfortune. Next to the church they are the most popular organizations among Negroes.
Of the beneficial societies… The Quaker City Association is a sick and death benefit society, seven years old, which confines its membership to native Philadelphians. It has 280 members and distributes $1,400 to $1,500 annually. The Sons and Daughters of Delaware is over fifty years old. It has 106 members and owns $3,000 worth of real estate. The Fraternal Association was founded in 1861 ; it has 86 members and distributes about $300 a year. It “was formed for the purpose of relieving the wants and distresses of each other in the time of affliction and death, and for the furtherance of such benevolent views and objects as would tend to establish and maintain a permanent and friendly intercourse among them in their social relations in life.” The Sons of St. Thomas was founded in 1823 and was originally confined to members of St. Thomas Church. It was formerly a large organization, but now has 80 members, and paid out in 1896, $416 in relief. It has $1,500 invested in government bonds. In addition to these there is the Sons and Daughters of Moses, and a large number of other small societies.
There is a rising also a considerable number of insurance societies, differing from the beneficial in being conducted by directors. The best of these are the Crucifixion, connected with the Church of the Crucifixion, and the Avery, connected with Wesley A. M. E. Z. Church ; both have a large membership and are well conducted. Nearly every church is beginning to organize one or more such societies, some of which in times past have met disaster by bad management. The True Reformers of Virginia, the most remarkable Negro beneficial organization yet started,has several branches here. Beside these there are numberless minor societies, as the Alpha Relief, Knights and Ladies of St. Paul, the National Co-operative Society, Colored Women s Protective Association, Loyal Beneficial, etc. Some of these are honest efforts and some are swindling imitations of the pernicious, white, petty insurance societies.
1931-1934: Philadelphia’s United Consumers’ Co-operative Association calls itself “the grocery store owned by its customers.”
1932: The Young Negroes’ Co-operative League establishes a council in Philadelphia
1934: Pennsylvania Credit Union Association is formed
The Association is owned by its member credit unions and still exists today. Here’s a link to their website.
Viriva Community Credit Union was chartered in 1936. Trumark Financial Credit Union was founded in 1939 by Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania employees. Read more of their history here. Philadelphia Federal Credit Union was founded in 1951 to serve the financial needs of Philadelphia municipal employees.
1937: Swarthmore Food Co-op opens
Currently the 3rd oldest food co-op in the nation, Swarthmore Food Co-op was started as a buying club by the wives of Swarthmore professors in 1932.
1940s- early 1950s : Philadelphia Area Cooperative Federation
“Mary Arnold [(a co-op organizer)] moved to Philadelphia and became director of the Philadelphia Area Co-operative Federation in 1942. Prior to that, she organized credit unions and other co-ops for Maine lobster fisherman and produced a documentary film about their lives.” (Knupfer, see below for citation)
1952: Friends Housing Cooperative opens in Northern Liberties
The interracial housing cooperative opened at 703 North 8th Street in 1952 and still exists today. Read more about its history here.
1971: Movement for a New Society is created; Mariposa Food Co-op opens; Life Center Association founded
“One group combining personal and political struggle was the Movement for a New Society, a network of small autonomous living collectives in seven cities, working for non-violent radical social change. They came out of the anti-war movement in 1971 and were active in the anti-nuclear movement.
The largest MNS center was Philadelphia, with about a hundred members in twenty communal houses in 1979.” (Curl, see below for citation) This center became the Life Center Association and still exists today. Read more about the history of the LCA on their website. There’s a great book by Andrew Cornell called Oppose and Propose: Lessons from Movement for a New Society. Check it out here.
In the video below, Philadelphia cooperator Esteban Kelly talks about Movement for a New Society.
1973: Weaver’s Way Co-op opens in Mt. Airy
1970s: Delaware Valley Federation for Economic Democracy
“Besides Mariposa & then Weavers Way there were at least three other co-op stores- Ecology, Penn Co-op, and Germantown Ecology. Plus there were 8-12 buying clubs, I was part of one at Temple on Norris St near 15th, and there were 2 in Germantown (Calvary Church on Pulaski and People’s Co-op at church at Greene & Tulpehocken). Plus there were 3 or 4 in West Philly. Tying them all together was “The Federation”, I don’t remember the formal name, but it was a warehouse run by Ed and Peggy Place, I think it may have been on Baring St. in W. Philly (building is no longer there). The Federation had a truck & warehouse and bought produce and dry goods and cheese for the member co-oops. Next door was a co-op bakery, which I think was called Grateful Grains Bakery.”
-Norman Weiss, Weaver’s Way Co-op (personal email, October 2013)
1976 – 1987: Philadelphia Association of Cooperative Enterprise (PACE)
PACE promoted worker ownership through worker cooperatives and democratic ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans) in the Philadelphia area. According to Andrew Lamas, PACE was originally a local chapter of a “short-lived national organization, the Federation for Economic Democracy.” At that time, PACE was called the Delaware Valley Federation for Economic Democracy. (Lamas, see below for citation) Lamas’ 1992 article “PACE of Philadelphia: The Enduring Legacy of Franklin and the Striking Carpenters” in the anthology cited at the bottom of this page gives a good overview of PACE’s evolution and activities.
People involved in PACE included Sherman Kreiner, (Executive Director), Dr. Virginia Vanderslice (PACE organizational development staff), James Steiker (PACE attorney), Joel Steiker (financial consultant to PACE), and Ruth Green (PACE office manager). (Lamas, see below for citation)
Carla Dickstein wrote a dissertation in 1986 called “The Role of Support Organizations in Worker Cooperative Systems: A Comparative Case Study” that focused on PACE and the O&O Investment Fund. The abstract is available here. To download a 28-page article she wrote based on her dissertation, click here.
1982: O&O Supermarkets are created
The Philadelphia Area A&P grocery stores closed, laying off 2,000 employees. Two were converted into worker-owned and operated cooperatives, called the O&O Supermarkets (Owned and Operated). The New York Times did a magazine piece focusing on the O&O Supermarkets in 1983.
Learn more about the O&O story at american.coop. They also have a great annotated bibliography on the subject.
1985 Philadelphia City Council creates a Cooperative Advisory and Development Council
City Council passed Bill No. 312-A, entitled “An Ordinance establishing a Cooperative Advisory and Development Council (‘CADC’) within the Commerce Department for the purpose of assisting the development and expansion of worker, housing and consumer cooperatives, setting forth its composition, the process for appointing its members, and its duties; establishing a Cooperative Enterprise Revolving Fund under the jurisdiction of the CADC for the purpose of providing loan assistance, under certain terms and conditions, to finance cooperative enterprise feasibility studies, and professional and technical services; and establishing certain reporting requirements for the CADC and Commerce Department with respect to the programs established herein.”
1988: Pennsylvania Workers Cooperative Corporation Law is passed
If you’re really into it, you can download the text of the law here.
1988: Childspace, a daycare center owned by the workers, opens in Mt. Airy
Childspace was started by Teresa Mansell, Karen Guyton, and Cindy Coker. “Cindy and Teresa were both inspired by their work for the Philadelphia Association for Cooperative Enterprise, (where they helped set up worker-owned supermarkets), to use the cooperative model for their daycare.” Read more about their story here.
1993: Home Care Associates of Philadelphia is established
American.coop has a good history of Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx. Home Care Associates in Philadelphia was a replication of CHCA in the Bronx. Home Care Associates is now the third largest women-owned business in the Philadelphia region.
2011: Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance is formed
That’s us! PACA was formed to improve the Philadelphia region by growing the cooperative economy. We are proud of our city’s rich history of cooperation.
2012: Philadelphia City Council passes a resolution about the role of cooperative business in our city
The resolution recognized the contributions of cooperatives’ to economic and social development during the International Year of the Cooperative. Read more about the resolution on our International Year of the Cooperative page.
2013: Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah introduces the Creating Jobs Through Cooperatives Act
The Creating Jobs Through Cooperatives Act, H.R. 2437, seeks federal funding to support cooperative development. The bill is an updated version of the National Cooperative Development Act which was introduced by Representative Fattah in 2011. Get involved in the campaign to pass H.R. 2437 at campaign.coop.
We are probably missing pieces of Philadelphia’s cooperative history. If you have something to add, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more about the history of the American cooperative movement, visit the University of Wisconsin’s page.
Angevine, E., ed. (1982)National Consumers Committee for Research and Education (U.S.), & Consumers Union Foundation. Consumer activists: They made a difference : a history of consumer action related by leaders in the consumer movement. Mount Vernon, N.Y: Consumers Union Foundation.
Curl, J. (1980). History of work cooperation in America: Cooperatives, cooperative movements, collectivity, and communalism from early America to the present. Berkeley, CA: Homeward Press. Available here: http://www.red-coral.net/WorkCoops.html
DuBois, W.E.B (1907). Economic co-operation among Negro Americans.
Available here: https://archive.org/stream/economiccooper00duborich#page/96/mode/1up/search/philadelphia
Gordon, N. J. (2014). Collective courage: A history of African American cooperative economic thought and practice.
Knupfer, A. M. (2013). Food co-ops in America: Communities, consumption, and economic democracy.
Lamas, Andrew. “PACE of Philadelphia: The Enduring Legacy of Franklin and the Striking Carpenters.” In When Workers Decide: Workplace Democracy Takes Root in North America, edited by Len Krimerman and Frank Lindenfeld, 193-199. New Society Publishers 1992.
National Consumers Committee for Research and Education (U.S.), & Consumers Union Foundation. (1982). Consumer activists: They made a difference : a history of consumer action related by leaders in the consumer movement. Mount Vernon, N.Y: Consumers Union Foundation.
Roy, E. P. (1969). Cooperatives: today and tomorrow. Danville, Ill: Interstate Printers & Publishers.